Thousands flee in fear to Bangui airport

2013-12-07 09:17
Bodies lie in the field near Bangui, the CAR capital, a day after gun battles between Seleka soldiers and Christian militias. (Jerome Delay, AP)

Bodies lie in the field near Bangui, the CAR capital, a day after gun battles between Seleka soldiers and Christian militias. (Jerome Delay, AP)

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Bangui - Thousands of people crowded into a field outside the Central African Republic's main airport on Friday, hoping that French soldiers would protect them after a spasm of bloodshed in the lawless capital left more than 100 people dead.

With the capital of Bangui hovering at the edge of anarchy, French military reinforcements - including a fighter jet, helicopters, parachutists and armoured vehicles - rumbled their way into one of the world's poorest countries.

Streets in the city were empty except for military vehicles and the trucks favoured by rebel forces who now claim control of the government. Nine unclaimed bodies sprawled in front of the parliament building Friday - local Red Cross workers didn't dare retrieve them or other bodies that were left to decay outside.

There was no repeat of the clashes on Thursday that left more than 100 people dead in Bangui when Christian militias raided Muslim neighborhoods. Still it remained an open question how France can achieve even its limited goals in the six months allotted to the mission.

Muslim rebels have run rampant in Central African Republic after toppling the president in March, fighting against Christian militias who back the ousted leader. The capital remains awash in weapons and recent attempts at disarmament have yielded little success.

Despite the cheers that went up on Friday when jet engines roared overhead, France insisted it was going only reluctantly into Central African Republic and with limited aims for an expected force of 1,200.

"You have to secure, you have to disarm," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Radio France Internationale: "You have to ensure that the vandals, the bandits, the militias know they can't use the streets of Bangui for their battles."

Le Drian said French forces protecting the airport opened fire on Thursday on a rebel pickup truck bearing down on them, killing several men inside. He described the shooting as "legitimate defence."

The British government was flying in military equipment Friday to Central African Republic on a C-17 plane to help with France's intervention.

Read more on:    central african republic  |  central africa

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